H
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PRO & CON

IS RACIAL EQUALITY OF ACHIEVEMENT
A DESIRABLE GOAL FOR THE UNITED STATES?

YES! "REACHING THE TOP:" A Report of the National Task Force on Minority High Achievement," published by the College Board, 1999. The most important educational challenge for the United States is to eliminate, once and for all, the large educational achievement gaps among the nation's racial and ethnic groups. This is a moral and pragmatic imperative. Unless this is done, it will be virtually impossible to integrate our society's institutions completely, especially at leadership levels.

NO! "RACIAL PROMOTION THROUGH RACIAL EXCLUSION," below, a critique by Curtis Crawford in the journal, Society, 37:5, July/August 2000, pp 37-43. Neither the arguments of the Report, pertinent religious principles, the "scriptures" of our own political tradition, or the implications of the racial nondiscrimination principle, sustain the Report's new commandment of equal racial results in academic achievement. Moreover, when it comes to the gap between White and Asian achievement, the new commandment does not command its own soldiers. It is not a principle of racial justice, but a lever for racial favoritism.

REACHING THE TOP

[The reprinting of College Board documents online is not permitted. An executive summary and the full text of the Report are available at http://www.collegeboard.com . For a sense of the Task Force's approach, the following paragraphs are quoted from the introduction to the executive summary. This is followed by Mr. Crawford's critique.]

"The College Board organized the National Task Force on Minority High Achievement in 1997 to study and make recommendations for addressing a crucial, if little known, national issue: the chronic shortage of African-American, Latino, and Native American students who achieve at very high levels academically. Because of this shortage, the vast majority of students who earn high grades in school, who score highly on standardized tests, and who earn bachelor's and advanced degrees are still White and Asian American.

"In creating the Task Force, a group of 31 distinguished leaders from education and other sectors, the College Board recognized that until many more students from these underrepresented groups become high achievers, it will be virtually impossible to integrate completely the professional and leadership ranks of our society. Our nation also will not come close to tapping the full range of talents of our population in an era when the value of an educated citizenry has never been greater and the minority share of the population is growing rapidly.

"During their research and deliberations over the past two years, members of the Task Force found the minority high achievement problem to be far-reaching. It extends to the academic underachievement of minority students at virtually all socioeconomic levels. Even minority students who have done very well in high school are often unable to maintain the same high level of academic achievement in college. The Task Force has concluded that the limited presence of Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans among top students is a product of several forces, including intense poverty experienced by many minority youngsters, schools with inadequate resources, racial and ethnic prejudice, the limited educational resources of many minority families and communities, and even cultural differences.

"Encouragingly, however, a number of proven or promising strategies for raising minority achievement levels are now available. Thus, there is every reason to believe that substantial growth in the number of top minority students can be achieved in the future. Making substantial progress will require the pursuit of an extensive array of public and private policies, actions, and investments. These initiatives collectively provide much more opportunity for academic development for underrepresented minority students through their schools, colleges, universities, homes, and communities. The Task Force summarizes this as a commitment to affirmative development. This commitment reflects a recognition that underachievement among minority students will need to be addressed wherever it occurs and with every means available. It will require leadership from a diverse group of societal actors, ranging from minority parents and communities to officials of higher education institutions."

RACIAL PROMOTION
THROUGH RACIAL EXCLUSION

Curtis Crawford*
Published in Society, 37:5, July/August 2000, pp 37-43

Racial disparities in academic achievement are unacceptable: they must be eliminated with all possible speed. So declares a task force convened by the College Board, in a special report entitled "Reaching the Top." (http://www.collegeboard.com/)

The Task Force, though mostly professorial, includes the president of the National Academy of Sciences, the chair of Harvardís Department of Afro-American Studies, a former director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the provost of Howard University, the superintendent of the Boston Public Schools and the chief executive officer of the Exxon Corporation. It deliberated for more than two years before announcing its conclusions.

The Reportís language is emphatic and insistent: "[T]he most important educational challenge for the United States ... is eliminating, once and for all, the still large educational achievement gaps among the nationís racial and ethnic groups." This is a "moral and pragmatic imperative," which must be accomplished "as quickly as possible." (pp 1-2)

Race-based affirmative action has often been accused of papering over substantial group differences in academic performance, in order to increase minority participation. The Report, with an approach that it calls Affirmative Development, bluntly faces the existence of these gaps and proposes to get rid of them.

Racial preference, especially when carried out by public institutions, has increasingly seemed in legal jeopardy from court decisions and ballot initiatives. But the degree of preference in current programs is quite modest compared to what is contemplated by the Report. Its goals are racially defined and its means are racially discriminatory on a massive scale. As long as it takes to close the gaps in academic achievement, tens of thousands of educational programs, for tens of millions of students, would be provided exclusively for Black, Latino and Native Americans: no Whites or Asians need apply.

The arguments in favor of race-based affirmative action have long centered on the condition of Black Americans, building on a widespread feeling that special help is justified to counteract a long history of adverse discrimination. But the Reportís case for Affirmative Development adds and emphasizes Latinos, soon to be our largest minority, whose historical roots are largely outside the United States. The authors consider equal achievement for Latinos just as important as equal achievement for Blacks; this forces a change in the fundamental reason for special assistance. Racial gaps in academic performance are viewed as unacceptable per se, whether due to discrimination or not, whether the historical lack of educational opportunity associated with them occurred in this country or elsewhere.

The Report advocates an immense national effort at every educational level. It is packed with recommendations for leaders of colleges and universities; donors and research scholars; federal, state and local educational leaders and policy makers; national and local organizations concerned with education; minority leaders and parents; private foundations; agencies of the federal government; business leaders, corporations and the news media.

The primary focus is on racial and ethnic inequality at the higher levels of student performance. Success is to be measured by the relative level of academic skills and knowledge attained, not by the number of years in school or of degrees.

How large are the present gaps, and why are they unacceptable?

The Size of the Achievement Gaps

The size of the gaps is documented unflinchingly by the Report. It cites the results of recent tests in reading and mathematics, conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In these tests, given to fourth, eighth and twelfth graders nationwide, performance is classified as Advanced, Proficient, Basic or Below Basic. My first table shows the percentage of twelfth-graders from each racial group who scored within the Advanced and Proficient ranges for the reading test of 1998 and the math test of 1996.

 
Racial/ethnic
Group
% scoring ADVANCED
 
% scoring PROFICIENT
Reading
Math
Reading
Math
 White
7
2
 
47
20
 Asian
6
7
 
38
33
 Amer. Indian
3
0
 
27
3
 Hispanic
2
0
 
26
6
 Black
1
0
 
18
4

At the Advanced reading level, Whites and Asians were ahead of Hispanics and Blacks by more than three to one; at the Advanced level in math, Asians were the same distance ahead of Whites. In Proficient reading, Whites led, but the gaps were smaller; at the Proficient level in math, Asians did much better than Whites, who in turn outpaced the other groups by wide margins. Similar patterns appeared in the tests of fourth and eighth graders. [My figures, from the NAEP website, differ somewhat from those in the Report (p 7).]

The gaps indicated by high-school grades and SAT scores are not much different. The second table shows the percentage of 1997 college-bound seniors with high-school GPAs of A through A+ and SAT verbal or math scores above 600.

 Racial/ethnic
Group
% with GPA
of A or A+
 
% with SAT of 600+
 
Verbal
Math
 White
23
 
25
27
 
 Asian
28
 
22
41
 
 Amer. Indian
14
 
12
12
 
 Hispanic
16
 
10
10
 
 Black
9
 
7
4
 

Asians led in grades and math scores, especially in the latter. Native and Hispanic Americans occupied a low midrange and Blacks were farther behind on all three measures. [For its GPA comparisons, the Report (p 8) oddly reverts to ETS figures for 1992 and then misstates them.]

At kindergarten age, substantial gaps are already present. Released too late for inclusion in the Report are the first findings of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which in 1998 surveyed 22,000 children attending kindergarten in 1,000 public and private schools. The third table shows the percentage of kindergartners in each racial group who scored in the top quartile in tests of reading and math skills.

 

Racial/ethnic
Group

% scoring in the
top quartile
Reading
Math
 White
39
38
 Asian
30
32
 Amer. Indian
15
14
 Hispanic
15
10
 Black
9
9

One could cite a host of additional statistics, all showing substantial racial inequality in academic performance. The existence of the fact is clear. But whether the fact is unacceptable -- whether it must be eradicated if at all possible -- is not so clear.

Whether the Gaps Are Unacceptable

In human life there has always been inequality of individual achievement. Despite the social problems it sometimes creates, we generally accept this kind of inequality, unless it is caused by violation of personal rights. We consider inequality of achievement a natural result when individuals with different desires, abilities and circumstances are free to pursue the good as they see it. And we fear the degree of social control, indeed subjugation, that would enshroud a society determined to make every person equal in achievement.

Presumably the Task Force has no objection to inequality of achievement for individuals. It would favor progress for every student, but it would not demand or expect equal individual results. Why, then, does it demand equal racial group results?

Such a demand is not entirely new. Many civil rights activists have embraced the notion that racial justice implies racial equality in earnings and influence. The right to such equality belongs, as they see it, to racial groups with respect to other groups, though not to members of a group with respect to each other. This claim is sometimes expressed as a demand for proportionality: that each group is entitled to share in participation, compensation and leadership in proportion to its share of the population. Race-based selection in education and employment favoring "underrepresented" racial groups, when they are less qualified, has been defended as a means of raising them toward proportional equality.

The Task Force takes this outlook a step further. It adds a right to racial equality in academic achievement, which if secured would facilitate racial equality in earnings and influence. Its first line of argument is set forth in a series of propositions at the beginning of the Report (pp 1-2). After noting the existence of large racial performance gaps throughout studentsí school careers, the Report adds the following points.

 

1. Racial inequalities in academic achievement contribute to racial inequalities in occupational opportunities and achievements.

2. Black, Latino and Native Americans now are nearly one-third and by 2030 will be over two-fifths of the U.S. population under age 18.

3. Racial differences in academic achievement can become an increasing source of social conflict.

4. Without great Black, Latino and Native American academic progress, the institutions of our society and their leadership cannot be fully integrated.

5. Nor can we draw on the full range of talents in our population.

6. Therefore, the elimination of racial inequalities in academic achievement is a moral and pragmatic imperative.

I suspect that only those already committed to the conclusion find this argument compelling. A few comments in rebuttal will indicate the weakness of the premises.

 

Proposition (1) is true for racial inequalities, but also for religious, sex, class, regional or other group inequalities, yet we do not judge these unacceptable.

Proposition (2) is plausible, given current immigration trends. It would not come true if immigration policy were changed to favor applicants who are college or even high-school graduates.

Proposition (3) is off target, if the social conflict it hypothesizes is severe. Racial inequalities in achievement do not produce dangerous social conflict unless they are caused by, or result in, discrimination based on group membership.

Proposition (4) is clearly false, if "fully integrated" simply means that participation in an institution is not based on race. It would be true only if "fully integrated" were defined as proportional representation by race.

Proposition (5) is just as true for Whites and Asians whose talents remain undeveloped, as for Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans whose talents remain undeveloped.

Thus, Proposition (6) is unproved.

The only solid link in this chain of reasoning is the connection between (a) unequal academic and (b) unequal occupational achievement. But the fact that (a) contributes to (b) cannot make (a) unacceptable unless (b) is unacceptable. The Report does not try to show that racial inequality in occupational achievement is unacceptable.

The Authority of the New Commandment

The Task Force professes to descry an overriding commandment to end racial disparities in academic achievement. If not in its reasoning, what is the source of this mandate? Surely not the Hebrew or Christian scriptures, where it is neither stated nor implied. From the doctrines that we are all created in Godís image and equally subject to original sin, it does not follow that individuals or racial groups must be equal in righteousness, wisdom, worldly goods or spiritual salvation. The Task Force will not assert that their commandment, though missing from the Bible, is revealed in the Koran or in some other authoritative religious source.

The Declaration of Independence proclaims the equal right of individuals (not groups) to pursue happiness (but not to gain it.) The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution grants persons (not groups) the right to equal protection (but not to equal achievement).

American state and federal civil rights statutes grant persons the right not to be racially discriminated against in access to employment, housing, public accommodations and other social goods. These measures require a crucial form of racial equality: that one not be favored or disfavored based on oneís race. But racial equality in the very different sense of equal group success in acquiring social goods was not the aim of antidiscrimination legislation. Indeed, the pursuit of racial equality in achievement, via the programs recommended in the Report, would require massive and sustained violation of the rule against racial discrimination.

Should the racial equality we seek be defined as equal achievement rather than equal treatment? Should a group right to equal success supplant the individual right to equal protection of the laws and to equal freedom in the pursuit of happiness? I see no reason for believing in the new commandment. Our attempt to find a source for the new commandmentó whether in the arguments of the Report, in pertinent religious principles, in the "scriptures" of our own political tradition, or in the implications of the nondiscrimination principleóhas failed.

Do Its Proponents Believe in the New Commandment?

When a cause cannot be found, it may be worthwhile to verify that the supposed effect actually exists. In this case the effect in question is a belief. Do the proponents of the new commandment really believe what it declares? Are they truly convinced that racial and ethnic inequalities in achievement are a great evil, which must be ended? As will appear below, there is reason to think that they are not. It all seems to depend on whose achievement is unequal.

For many years, Blacks have greatly outnumbered other athletes in professional basketball and football. Though only 14% of the US population aged 20-34, Blacks in 1997 were 79% of the players in the National Basketball Association and 66% of the players in the National Football League. The corresponding figures for Whites were 20% and 31%; for Latinos, less than 1% in both cases. These inequalities were typical for the 1990s.

Is there an advocate of racial equality in achievement who is upset at these gaps? Certainly, none campaigns for their abolition. If pressed, members of the Task Force might insist that they are concerned with academic not athletic achievement. We could respond with the reminder that these athletes make a pile of money: inequalities in athletic achievement can produce large inequalities in occupational earnings.

But let us return to academic inequality. Consider the situation in the state that is said to foreshadow the demographic future of the nation. In 1996, the population of California was about half white and half people of color. Full eligibility for admission that year to the University of California system was awarded to the top 11% of high-school graduates, as determined by a statewide comparison of grades, course content and test scores. From each racial group the percentage who gained this prize differed enormously: 30% of Asian graduates, 13% of Whites, 4% of Latinos and 3% of Blacks. Whites thus performed three or four times as well as Latinos and Blacks, while Asians did almost three times as well as Whites. In percentage points, the gap between Asians and Whites was wider than the gap between Whites and Latinos or Blacks.

Pointing to these figures, we may ask the Report: Are these racial gaps in academic achievement acceptable? Answer: The gaps between Whites and Latinos or Blacks are absolutely unacceptable and must be eliminated. Question: Is the gap between Asians and Whites also unacceptable? Answer: The Report notes the existence of gaps between these two groups, but does not discuss their acceptability. Question: Should special educational efforts be designed for White students, to help them match Asian achievements? Answer: The Report is concerned with Black, Latino and Native American progress; none of its recommendations are designed to improve White performance.

There it is. The new commandment does not command its own soldiers. When Black academic achievement is unequal to White, the commandment sounds loud and clear; when White achievement is unequal to Asian, the commandment vanishes. It is not a principle of racial justice, but a lever for racial favoritism.

If the authors of the Report saw the commandment as a principle of justice, they would apply it to the Asian/White gap. And not only that! Considering any large racial or ethnic inequality in academic achievement to be unacceptable, they would seek to eliminate such inequalities among the many White, Black, Latino and Asian ethnic subgroups in America. In most of these cases, no one tabulates group performance, so we do not know whether significant inequalities exist. But ignorance is surely no excuse. If they are truly unacceptable, we should uncover them and remove any that we find.

Speaking as a White American scholar, who has long been aware of White inferiority to Black Americans in much athletic achievement and to Asian Americans in much academic achievement, I may say that neither fact has ever cost me a momentís sleep. They are pseudo-problems. So far as I can see, they do not affect my opportunity, or that of a relative, friend, neighbor or fellow-citizen, to succeed as an athlete or a scholar. What matters is whether you have what is needed for the work at hand. If you do, it cannot be taken from you by the inferior performance of your racial group. If you do not, it cannot be implanted in you by your groupís statistical success. Individual persons, not racial averages, play football, solve equations or treat disease.

All this assumes that these White inferiorities have not been the result of racial discrimination against Whites in favor of Blacks and Asians. If, on the contrary, the inequalities had been caused by discrimination, there would be good reason for concern. But the wrong to be combatted in that case would be unequal treatment, not unequal achievement.

Human Problems, Racial Solutions

A defender of the Report might concede that the new commandment is a rhetorical flourish, that no one seriously believes that there must be equal academic achievement among Asians, Whites and a hundred ethnic groups. But this, he might add, is not the issue. The Task Force was convened, as the Report states, with a specific problem in mind: "the chronically limited presence of African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans among high achieving students at all levels of the educational system." (p v) Having studied the problem, the Task Force recommends race-exclusive programs for improving academic performance in these three groups. Is not this a desirable goal? Are not these means reasonably designed to promote it?

The reader will recall that student performance on the NAEP tests is classified as Advanced, Proficient, Basic and Below Basic. Concretely, what the Report seeks is to help a large number of Black, Latino and Native American students move up from Proficient to Advanced, in reading, mathematics and other subjects, from the early grades through high school.

Assuming the availability of resources, few would deny the desirability of helping Proficient students to reach the Advanced level. But why limit the goal by race? There are large numbers of White and Asian Proficient students who also might become Advanced if given better educational opportunities. The benefits of better performance, to the successful students and to society as a whole, presumably exist regardless of the race of the person who improves.

What is needed by society for its work, and by each person for his or her fulfillment, is individual improvement. The improvement in quality when a White or Asian student rises from Proficient to Advanced is just as large as when a Black or Latino makes the same progress. Greater individual improvement is better than less, but equal improvement does not become greater because of a personís race.

Back for a moment to professional basketball. Perhaps there are fans who would enjoy it more if the teamsí racial proportions were different. But what counts for the vast majority is how well the game is played. The fans do discriminate in their affections, occasionally on the basis of race, but overwhelmingly on the basis of athletic excellence. They know that high achievement is rare, they want it on their team, and they lavish its exemplars with worldwide popularity.

Excellence is no less rare and no less needed in the professions, business and government -- in doctors, judges, entrepreneurs, teachers, scientists, engineers, administrators, politicians and so on. In its pursuit of excellence, the Report advocates a huge expansion of educational opportunities for those students (Latino, Black and Native American) who are projected in 2015 to constitute two-fifths of the population under 18. But if you are hunting for treasure, why avoid three-fifths of the spots where it might be found?

Closing the Gap between Potentiality and Performance

Now it may be argued that: (1) we lack the resources to provide extra educational opportunities for all students, (2) since we have to make choices, it is better to focus on minority groups whose mean achievement is substantially below the national average, and (3) these students would gain more from the intervention, because among them the difference between actual and potential achievement is presumably greater.

This third point is not broached in the Report, but perhaps is crucial to its reasoning. Did the Task Force in fact assume that, despite large racial and ethnic gaps in academic performance, no such differences exist in academic potential? People who make this assumption do not claim that every member of every group has the same academic potential, but do claim that the average and the distribution of individual potential in each group are similar. If racial groups are thus alike in potential but unlike in performance, it follows, of course, that the gap between performance and potential is greater for some groups than others. If this is so, it would be reasonable to believe that supplementary, high-quality educational programs would do far more for the racial groups where the gap is widest.

Is the gap between academic potential and performance significantly greater for some racial groups than others? To measure the gap in individuals we have fallible but valuable tools. IQ tests estimate academic potential, while course work and achievement tests show what has actually been learned. For three quarters of a century, schools have used this combination to determine whether an individual student is performing below his or her potential.

So far as I know, racial comparisons of IQ and achievement test scores do not bolster the thesis that the gap between potentiality and performance is appreciably larger for members of some races than for others. Certainly, no data in the Report support this conclusion. On the contrary, the group results of IQ tests tend to correspond with the results of achievement tests: there are substantial racial differences in potential as well as in achievement, but not much racial difference in the gap between potentiality and achievement.

It is often charged that IQ tests underestimate minority academic potential. This charge, if true, would be easy to verify. One need only demonstrate that IQ tests of Black, Latino or Native American children tend to underpredict their academic performance. Such a tendency, though eagerly sought, has not been found.

Although the racial differences in the degree to which students fulfill their potential are insignificant, the individual differences can be huge. A wise use of scarce educational resources would be to serve those individuals, regardless of race, in whom the difference between actual and potential achievement is greatest.

Counteracting Educational Disadvantages

Another possible justification for confining extra educational opportunities to underrepresented minorities is the argument from disadvantage. The Report points to research indicating that the disadvantages of poverty, lower parental education, inferior school resources and less effective cultural practices negatively influence academic achievement for all students, regardless of race. Since Black, Latino and Native Americans are overrepresented among students with these disadvantages, the Report argues that this fact helps to cause the racial achievement gaps and justifies a race-exclusive strategy for eliminating them.

Although no attempt is made to quantify the impact of these disadvantages on individual academic achievement or on the racial gaps, no one would deny that they are barriers to academic progress. However, as the Report notes, their operation is colorblind. When schools are substandard Ė their teachers incompetent, their libraries and laboratories ill-equipped Ė all their pupils suffer, regardless of race.

Some of us have long advocated programs designed to counteract this disadvantage: e.g., summer academies, sponsored by the state or federal government, to provide high-class, supplementary education for children who attend incompetent schools. Enrollment would be open to all such pupils, regardless of their race. If most students in the failed school are Black, Latino and Native American, so would be most Ė but not all Ė of those eligible for the summer academy. The same principle applies to attempts to counter other disadvantages mentioned in the Report. The extra education should be offered to those who suffer the disadvantage. When certain racial groups predominate among students who are poor, go to bad schools, have poorly educated parents and/or lack certain cultural advantages, it is fair and reasonable that they predominate in the special programs. But it is neither fair nor reasonable that programs established to counteract educational disadvantages should exclude, because of race, any student who suffers them. Are members of the Task Force really prepared to stand at the door of educational opportunity, like Governor Wallace of old, barring access because of race?

Is Discrimination a Major Cause of Unequal Achievement?

Racial and ethnic discrimination and prejudice in America, the Report maintains, have had a large adverse impact on the academic performance of "underrepresented" minority students. No attempt is made to estimate how large. Having adopted the position that the performance gaps between White and Black, Latino or Native Americans must be eliminated, no matter what or where the sources, the Task Force is not under pressure to ascribe the gaps wholly or mostly to discrimination.

The Reportís views concerning the role of discrimination and prejudice are largely speculative, unsubstantiated and conceptually unclear. For example, it points to two factors that may involve substantial racial discrimination or prejudice: the widespread existence of racial separation in neighborhoods and schools, and the possibility that many teachers have lower expectations of minority students. Unfortunately, there is no effort to analyze the cause of the separation or to measure its impact on the performance gaps. Likewise, the Report offers no data measuring the prevalence and impact of lower expectations.

When middle-class families, predominantly but not exclusively white, flee inner-city schools, are they motivated by racial prejudice or by factual declines in student safety, classroom discipline and academic standards? When student IQ scores and parentsí social and economic status are statistically controlled, do Black, Latino and Native American students learn more in racially mixed or predominantly non-white schools? When teachers have lower expectations of certain minority students, are they based on the past performance of the individuals in question or on racial or ethnic bias? In schools where such bias is widespread, what is the effect on student achievement?

Such questions are not addressed. Perhaps some of the research listed in their bibliography confirms the view that lower teacher expectations and educational segregation, due primarily to racial prejudice, are significant contributors to the racial differences in academic achievement. But no such confirmation is presented or cited.

No one would deny the Reportís view that discrimination against earlier generations of Black, Latino and Native Americans has affected the circumstances and achievements of their descendants. But omitted entirely from consideration are the effects on present academic performance of historical discrimination against Chinese, Japanese, Jews, Irish, Poles, Italians et al., and of recent discrimination (aka affirmative action) against Whites. Do members of the Task Force believe that these examples of adverse discrimination have stifled group academic performance, stimulated it, or had no effect? We cannot tell.

Much of the data that would be necessary for determining valid statistical correlations between historical discrimination and current achievement gaps is probably no longer available. Even a scholarly consensus on the relative effects of present discrimination seems unlikely. But all this uncertainty need not impede the practical tasks of finding and helping individual students, regardless of race, with the greatest potential for improvement, and of identifying schools, regardless of race, whose incompetence warrants supplementary programs. Nor should it stop us from trying to prevent acts of racial discrimination. Educators who treat people differently, based on their race, should be held accountable, in morality and law. Victims of such treatment deserve amends ó not because of their race but for their injury.

Which brings us to the Reportís position on the morality of unequal treatment based on race. Such treatment is unhesitatingly condemned, when directed against Black, Latino and Native Americans, but ignored or condoned when directed against Whites. Half a century ago, our society decided to prohibit racial discrimination in education as morally wrong, regardless of the race of the person discriminated against. The Reportís recommendations not only violate this ban; they completely ignore it.

That is a tremendous mistake. To my mind, the greatest moral achievement of the twentieth century was the adoption by the United States (and many other nations) of the rule against racial or ethnic discrimination in the distribution of social goods. This principle is an indispensable barrier to racial and ethnic favoritism, which all through history has generated internecine conflict, antagonism, hatred, oppression and war.

Summing Up

"Reaching the Top," the Report of the College Boardís Task Force on Minority High Achievement, began by unfurling a "moral and pragmatic imperative" to eliminate racial inequality in academic achievement. Instead of persuading the reader to believe in this new commandment, the Report (unintentionally) revealed that its authors do not. Still, it warranted evaluation simply as a proposal to improve Black, Latino and Native American academic achievement, via race-exclusive educational programs sponsored by public and private agencies.

The Report assumed that Black, Latino and Native American academic potential is currently less tapped than White and Asian potential, which would give additional educational programs for these groups a greater social payoff. But no evidence was offered of racial inequality in the average distance between student potentiality and performance. The greatest social payoff, for efforts designed to help underachieving students rise to their potential, accrues when the programs reach those individuals, regardless of race, in whom the potentiality/performance gap is widest.

The Report pointed to research indicating that poverty, low parental education, incompetent schools and poor cultural practices negatively affect academic achievement, and that "underrepresented" minorities disproportionately suffer these disadvantages. But it was not maintained that all or only Black, Latino and Native Americans face these obstacles, and no reason was given why White and Asian Americans who share them should be barred from programs designed to counteract them.

The Report declared that the impact of racial discrimination and prejudice on the gaps in academic performance is large. This assumption was not applied to the gap between Whites and Asians. No one would deny that adverse discrimination and prejudice have affected academic achievement, but no evidence was cited that would specify or quantify the impact.

Would these criticisms impress the Task Force Ė would they even be heard? The tone of the Report suggests the confidence of people engaged in a sacred mission, where policy is validated by good intentions, despite its empirical, conceptual and moral flaws. A substantial portion of current American idealism stereotypes Black, Latino and Native Americans as the underdogs of our society and makes the improvement of their condition a high cause. To this mindset, it is more interesting and valuable to serve students of "underrepresented" races, regardless of their individual promise or disadvantage. A similar bias favoring White or Asian students because of their race would be condemned by the Task Force as racial prejudice, and rightly so.

The integrity of American education is better served by programs and teachers eager to assist promising or disadvantaged students, regardless of their race. And, one should add, the integrity of the College Board as a testing institution should require that it not favor any (racial or other) group that it tests.

o0o

SUGGESTED FURTHER READING

Jencks, Christopher and Phillips, Meredith, editors, The Black-White Test Score Gap, Washington, D.C: The Brookings Institution, 1998.

STATISTICAL SOURCES FOR:

STUDENTS TESTING ADVANCED OR PROFICIENT, BY RACE --The "Nationís Report Card," for reading (1998) and mathematics (1996), prepared by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, http://www.nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard.

GRADES AND SAT SCORES OF CCOLLEGE-BOUND HIGH-SCHOOL SENIORS, BY RACE -- Available by request from the Educational Testing Service, Princeton, NJ 08541

KINDERGARDEN STUDENTS WITH READING AND MATH SCORES IN THE TOP QUARTILE, BY RACE -- The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99, http://www.nces.ed.gov/pubsearch. Release date: Feb 17, 2000.

PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL AND FOOTBALL PLAYERS BY RACE -- Annual "Racial Report Cards," prepared by the Center for the Study of Sport in Society, http://www.sportinsociety.org/rgrc98.pdf

CALIFORNIA HIGH-SCHOOL GRADUATES ELIGIBLE FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BY RACE -- 1996 Eligibility Rates, published by the California Postsecondary Education Commission, http://www.cpec.ca.gov .

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